Professor Denise Morgan, a professor of education policy and the law, federal courts, civil procedure, and a seminar on race and American history at New York Law School and advocate for fiscal equity in public education in New York, died April 8 after a long illness. She was 41.
In a statement to the New York Law School community, Dean Richard A. Matasar called Professor Morgan “an amazing woman–kind, energetic, smart, dedicated, committed, and courageous.” He added: “She was an extraordinary colleague and an inspiration to students and faculty members alike. Our school grew with her and her loss leaves us with a hole in our hearts and a void in leadership that will be difficult to replace.”
Prof. Morgan represented the Black, Puerto Rican and Hispanic Legislative Caucus, and filed several amicus briefs on behalf of the Caucus in a landmark case against New York State to establish equity in public school funding for New York City’s schoolchildren. The decade-long litigation, Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. New York State, which began in 1993 as a constitutional challenge to the state’s method of financing public education, continues today as CFE seeks to force the state to comply with sweeping financing reforms ordered by New York’s highest court in 2003.
In addition to her work on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity litigation, Prof. Morgan assisted the New York City Board of Education’s Chancellor Search Office in its 1995 search for a leader for the City’s public school system.
Prof. Morgan credited her West Indian immigrant parents with instilling in her a deep sense of the value of education:“My parents are immigrants from the West Indies who arrived in this country without a great deal of money, but with very good educations,” Professor Morgan explained in a 2001 interview. “I believe in the power of a strong public education system to create social, political, and economic mobility. I also understand that our public school system has never lived up to its full potential—that’s what drives my work.”
Before joining the New York Law School faculty in 1995, Professor Morgan, who received both her B.A. and her J.D. from Yale University, clerked for the Honorable Marilyn Hall Patel, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, and then joined Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton as an associate. It was at Cleary that she started working on a pro bono case that inspired her research into public school finance litigation.
The history of race in the United States was another area of scholarly interest for Prof. Morgan. She studied black boxing heavyweight Jack Johnson, writing about him as the reluctant hero of the black community. She was interviewed in the Ken Burns documentary on Johnson, Unforgivable Blackness, that was released in January 2005.
Prof. Morgan wrote extensively about civil rights and equal educational opportunity, covering such topics as single-sex schools and desegregation law. Her most recent scholarly work focused on the role that the federal government plays in protecting individual rights, especially those rights that facilitate the belonging of outsiders in the national community. Professor Morgan argued tht recent Supreme Court decisions would leave a detrimental impact on the enforcement of those rights. She was the author of numerous articles and principal editor of Awakening from the Dream: Civil Rights under Siege and the New Struggle for Equal Justice (2005).
Prof. Morgan is survived by her husband Eric Wold, their daughter Sylvan, her mother Coralee, her father John Morgan.
A memorial service will be held at the First Presbyterian Church of New York City on Sunday, April 23, at 3 p.m., at 12 West 12th Street (Fifth Avenue).
In lieu of flowers, the Morgan and Wold families ask that donations be made to an educational fund for Sylvan Wold established in Denise’s memory. Details about how to contribute to the Fund will be forthcoming.